More than a century after it opened, America's first airplane factory will become active again with a project to build a modern Wright Flyer. The new Wright Flyer will look like the original Wright Model B, but meet modern airworthiness standards.
The Wright Model B was a variation built seven years after the famous 1903 flyer became the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft. The Model B became the first of the Wright's designs to be built in quantity and included some major changes to the airframe. Among these changes was the relocation of a true elevator to the tail and dedicated seats for two passengers. The Wrights were able to sell this aircraft to the U.S. Army and Navy as trainers and it became the first aircraft to cross the continental United States.
Wright "B" Flyer Inc. will build the reproduction airplane at the Wright Company factory site in Dayton, Ohio. Final assembly will take place inside the original Wright factory buildings. The new airplane will replace its current lookalike, the so-called "Brown Bird," which has been flying since 1982. Like the Brown Bird, the new plane will resemble an original Wright Model B while meeting modern airworthiness standards. According to Dayton Daily News, it will cost approximately $250,000 to build an updated, modern aircraft. $150,000 has already been pledged by an anonymous donor.
Wright "B" Flyer Inc. has been granted access to the site by its current property owner, Home Avenue Redevelopment LLC. The nonprofit National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) will support the project with infrastructure improvements and other assistance. Wright "B" Flyer is a NAHA partner organization. The National Aviation Heritage Alliance will support the project with infrastructure improvements.
Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane in Dayton and formed the Wright Company in 1909. They built the factory's two buildings in 1910 and 1911. The factory produced 13 models and approximately 120 airplanes, most of them Model Bs before Orville sold the company in 1915.
General Motors acquired Dayton-Wright in September of 1919 in an attempt to enter the aviation market but did not stay in the airplane business. In 1922, GM began to sell a steering wheel invented by Dayton-Wright engineer Harvey D. Geyer, a former Wright Company employee. Geyer's steering wheel used a new manufacturing process to produce a superior wheel. The product was so successful that GM formed a new division around it—the Inland Manufacturing Division. The factory expanded over the decades as thousands of workers turned out auto parts, first as Inland, later as Delco and finally as Delphi. The automotive manufacturing plant was shut down in 2008.
In 2009 Congress added the property including the original Wright Company buildings to the National Park Service. As part of a revitalization grant, work was done in 2013 to demolish and cleanup surrounding buildings in the first steps to restore the property as a historical landmark in order to more effectively tell the story of the Wright Brothers.
Wilbur and Orville's original Model B was extremely difficult to fly by modern standards. Little was know about aerodynamics and the effects of flight controls at the time. The Wrights were on the cutting edge and created a system to warp the wings to allow the aircraft to bank left and right to allow for smooth, coordinated turns when other aviators were simply relying on the tail rudder to get the plane to turn. This wing warping was accomplished using a series of levers that had to properly be coordinated with the throttle, elevator and rudder to maintain stable flight.
Development for the current Wright Model B No. 1 "Brown Bird" began in the early '70s. A non-flying Model B from the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio was used as a template. Important modifications like replacing the control levers with a more practical wheel and eliminating the wing warping in favor of ailerons. The airplane was also updated with a steel structure and a modern engine.
A new aircraft would mark the first time The Wright B Flyer Inc has had two biplanes since the previously attempted construction a of No. 2 "Silver Bird" which was destroyed in a fatal crash during test flights in 2011.
Wright "B" Flyer Inc. is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit corporation that promotes Dayton's aviation heritage by flying and displaying lookalikes of Wright Model B airplanes. It is based on Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport in Ohio, where its hangar-museum is open to the public at no charge from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. A $100 donation qualifies as an honorary aviator which entitles you to an orientation ride on the "Brown Bird" Model B.
Photo:National Aviation Heritage Area